Switch to full style
General Chat
Post a reply

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Mon Jan 20, 2014 2:27 pm

The passion of cars expressed through your words, is simply remarkable. I am thoroughly enjoying the read and the pictures!
Members don't see the above ad. Register now

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:44 am

Bear with me guys, I'm headed to Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hour race, so i won't be back until later next week. I'll work diligently on the next installment. In the meantime, here's a pic I snapped last year. I call it "The Staredown". Juan Pablo Montoya on the left, Dario Franchitti right.
Daytona Pic.jpg

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Thu Jan 23, 2014 6:31 pm

Lookin forward to more of the story.
Have fun at Daytona and good luck at the races.
I've had a great time every time I've been to Daytona starting with Spring Break in the 80's, several Bike Week visits, and now trips with my wife and kids. I love that they let cars cruise the beach - there aren't too many car friendly beaches like that anymore.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Sat Feb 01, 2014 1:38 am

Casually sailing 30,000 feet above the snow-laden mid Atlantic states gives me time to collect my thoughts. My trip to Roebeling Road was certainly a great introduction to the sport. From the outside, I was well on my way, but I felt I had yet to reach the presypus of my career. I was still in school, still working at Toyota, and still very insecure about my abilities. It's difficult to see others at the point where you want to be, but it is proper motivation to work for something you really want.

As the semesters flew by, I noticed the curriculum becoming easier to understand. In many cases, I'd already begun work in the topics we were covering, well ahead of my classmates. Toyota did a great job of focusing in core areas for each semester. For example, we would focus on steering and suspension for four weeks, then move on to brakes and hydraulics the next four. Each semester was 2 months long, and you have the option to pursue an associates degree at the same time, which I did. After two months, you returned full time to the dealership for two months to (in theory) work on jobs that you had just studied. That was rarely the case. You became "the bitch", doing oil changes and tire rotations. That was fine for me as I was an hourly employee, and was yet unproven. There is a point where each apprentice needs to pay their dues, and I kept in mind that this wouldn't be forever. And I couldn't have learned from a better person. John, a master Toyota mechanic, was kind, patient, modest and understanding. He never made me feel like an idiot, though I'm sure he felt like doing so sometimes. Between he and the resident Mercedes tech (we were also a Mercedes dealer), they taught me it was important to do any job right. A job can be done a variety of different ways, but doing it right is usually the hardest. Whether working on cars or projects around the house, this is something I always keep in my mind.

The dealership I worked for had major problems. Primarily, leadership. In the 2 years I was at Toyota, they went through 5 service managers, all wanting to change things to suit them. Sometimes, you just keep your head down and wait for the flak to pass, but one day I just couldn't dodge it. My boss calls me in and asks how I'm doing. Always a bad sign. He continues by telling me that he's decided to turn me "flat rate". For those that don't know, flat rate is pretty common in the automotive world. Instead of getting paid hourly, you get paid based on the work you do. This is both good and bad, because some days can be extremely busy, while others are dead. The dealership sets a price for jobs like major services and brakes, the technician getting a predetermined amount of pay for each. So if they pay you 1.5 hours for a brake job and you do it in an hour, you still get paid for 1.5. In effect, you can start on the next brake job while you're still getting paid for the last one, and so on. Some days, I would come home with 14-16 hours, but on the flip side, there are days that see barely any customers. You end up wasting the entire day without getting paid a dime. It was interesting watching the cycles too. About a month before Christmas all the way through about mid February, there is little work. People are saving for the holidays and then waiting to get their taxes back. Conversely, Spring becomes quite chaotic as people are prepping for vacation.

Back to my manager. At the time, I was a $7.00/hr employee and he wanted to turn me flat rate at the same pay. I panicked at first but this turned out to be a great idea! He assured me that any flat rate hours I made would be doubled. 20 hours turned to forty. Essentially, I would be paid $14.00 per flat rate hour, and it came at a time where I plateaued. There was no drive. This offered me the opportunity to work as hard as I could, while yielding dividends. And I did well! I went to the next level, doing engine tear downs and transmission rebuilds. I could tear apart a manual transmission from a 5-speed Toyota truck in less than an hour. I even did one at home on the garage floor for a buddy. I was always good at those though, admittedly, I can't rebuild an automatic trans to save my life. Even after a comprehensive 5-day class with Benz in NJ, autos are not my strong suit. My manager was always good about giving me time off to go with the race team, which I really appreciated. He saw I was very passionate about it, and made no attempt to stifle it.

I continued to help at Ferrari on the weekends, picking up any knowledge like a vacuum. I'd like to say race weekends were prevalent, but it wasn't so. I spent more time prepping the cars than being at the track, which was a little disappointing. But they had full time staff and plenty of volunteers, so I patiently waited my turn. Then I got a call that they were tossing my name around for a trip to Sebring, FL for the 12-hour race. I vaguely knew what that was, but I was ecstatic! I was told that they would be bringing an extra race car down on the trailer specifically for me to work on. It wasn't meant to race, but needed preparation for other upcoming races. They were throwing me a bone, and appreciated the work I've done. But I had to get the ok from my boss, not to mention finals were coming up the following week. To my surprise, my boss was fine with it. I spoke to my teachers about finishing up some projects either before or after, and that too was surprisingly simple. The stars had aligned and I was all set! Now I just had to tell my girlfriend, and she was less than supportive.

I'll never forget that trip! It delivered on all that was promised and more, with one huge drawback. We loaded up into our trusty, useless 15-passenger van for the trek. That's right....we drove! I assumed we were flying, but Boy was I wrong. We drove all night, everyone taking turns behind the wheel. All except for me. As I was still under 21, I couldn't drive the rental car. No problem here, but sleeping was nonexistent, so I might as well have. We arrived in Sebring the next day, exhausted and dirty. I was longing for a shower and power nap but we headed straight to the track. It was the first and likely only time I hated being at the track. We worked on setting the trailer canopy up, as well as unloading all the gear. It was one long day combined from two, and I crashed the minute by head hit the pillow.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Tue Feb 04, 2014 5:48 pm

Really enjoying this read.
My mechanic buddies were flat rate too, at least until they started their own shops or went to work for private shops.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Thu Feb 13, 2014 10:09 pm

The next morning found us at the track early. I’m not much of a “morning person” and up to that point, our schedule has been absolutely draining. We unloaded the cars and parked them underneath the canopy, my car going in first. Our trailer was parked alongside the backstretch of the track, making for a nice view while working on the cars. The car that was shipped for me was a red 348 Challenge car which was very shortly going to be phased out of the Challenge series due to age. The F355 would be the new car in the corral, and we brought three of them to race. The plan for me was to prepare the 348 for SCCA racing, starting with the interior sound-deadening material. It’s amazing how much sound-deadening goes into a car, and how much of a pain it is to get out. Inside the car is little ventilation, and my primary tools were a scraper and loads of Brake Clean. I didn’t care at the time, but that stuff is so caustic that I can’t believe I survived in the car without passing out. I was high as a kite most of the time I was working on it.

During one of my breaks, another crewmember called me over to meet a gentleman just outside the canopy. We had cordial introductions and the man he was talking to turned out to be Phil Hill, the first, last, the only American Formula 1 World Champion. Phil Hill comes from an era of motor racing legend, with a storied career so prolific that authors and movie directors alike couldn’t replicate it. Phil drove for Ferrari, winning the F1 World championship in 1961 while battling throughout the season with his team mate Wolfgang Von Tripps for the title. Sadly, the race in which he clinched the title, the Italian Grand Prix, saw his team mate killed along with 15 spectators in an accident with Jim Clark’s Lotus. It was considered the worst tragedy in Formula One history. We spoke briefly and I really wish I’d remembered what we talked about. At the time, I knew very little about F1, and nothing at all about him, so I really couldn’t fully comprehend who I was among. He was a big part of the "romantic era of racing" if you will. The mortality rate of a racing driver of that era was very high, and casualties prominent throughout the season. People truly did it for the love of racing. I would have a chance to meet Phil again though.

Throughout the day, there were many people that came by to check us out. When at the track, you can buy garage passes that get you in to where we are, and it was great fun talking to passers-by and seeing the passion in their eyes as they look at the cars. One particular group was very entertaining, and they would help make my trip memorable. There were about six guys, well under the influence of mother’s moonshine, rolling along in a 15-passenger Ford Econoline van with all the windows and doors taken off. What was left of the van was tastefully painted in a primer/camouflage scheme. They had welded a huge steel platform on top of the van with a generator bolted on one side and Christmas lights wrapped around the entire vehicle. Classy!! But with drunk people, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. Shirts off and Milwaukee’s Best gracing their coozy’s, the guys were well-mannered and inquisitive. After our chat, they said “We’ll be back later to pick you guys up!” Ok buddy, see you then. True to their word, they showed up after night had fallen, their van a shining beacon among the paddock. They petitioned us to ride around with them and, while we wanted to, the decision was up to the crew chief and the dealership owner. Ultimately, we were caught up and they let us go. About five of us climbed aboard, taking in the sights while riding high on the platform above. First stop…..campsite. Need to stock up on some frosty beverages. While there, my eye caught a well-worn leather recliner that was dying to have an ass planted in it! So we heaved it up on top of this van and from there on out, we were riding in luxury! Next, our trek took us down the main thoroughfare. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s where the ferris wheel is. At this point, I was about to see not one but TWO things I’d never seen before. In back of the dually in front of us were two girls, one very drunk and the other trying to care for her, cradled in her arm. Since we’re guys, we naturally start whistling and yelling for them to kiss. Clearly, there would be no other reason for girls to embrace unless they were lesbians. We quickly realized our error and subsided, but to our shock, they locked lips in a passionate kiss! That got our motors running and we wanted more. We motioned for them to lift their shirts because, after all, happiness is boobies! The drunk one happily lifted her shirt then and there, and I received my first flash, abruptly followed by a middle finger. That’s ok, I got what I wanted! Now please remember that the gay community is much more prevalent now than they were in 1997, so seeing girls kiss (especially like that) was still very shocking. We stayed on that party wagon for hours, checking out the sights and generally acting like idiots. There are photos out there, but they don’t belong to me. I’ll see if I can locate them.

The Challenge races were pretty dull and uneventful. There were three heats, 30 min each and the rain was pouring down all day, so the drivers were overly cautious. These aren’t pros so there was little expectation. The main event came when the 12 Hours of Sebring started. This is the first endurance race I’ve witnessed, and it got me hooked from the start. Aside from rally, there is no other race as grueling as an endurance race. The Rolex 24 or the 12 Hours of Sebring are both terrific events, and I would encourage you to make at least one of them in your lifetime. I got a chance to see the Ferrari 333SP in action firsthand. Still one of my favorite race cars of all time, it makes a distinguishable whine at speed. When the sun went down, it became difficult to distinguish the cars. You would see superheated brake rotors, headlights and tail lights, so the challenge would be to distinguish the cars by sound alone. A big block Chevy is easy to tell. With its throaty grumble and large displacement, it asserts itself as a formidable and intimidating presence. By contrast, Ferrari uses small displacement but lives at higher RPM’s. As the 333 would pass, it screamed like a banshee in the night. It wasn’t a coarse or bitter on-the-verge-of-oblivion sound, but a finely-tuned precision scream. I’ve never heard another sound like it. It yells out to you “I’m f**king coming, and you better get the hell out of the way!” This car was so fast that IMSA required them to put a restrictor on it so other cars had a chance to be competitive. This effectively killed the car. Below is a picture of the 1998 24 Hour of Daytona race-winning 333SP driven by Giampiero Moretti (founder of Momo). He refused to retire from racing until he won the 24 Hours. Sadly, he passed away in 2012

The race was superb but unfortunately, we had to leave prior to the finish. I had finals to get back for so about half the crew loaded up in the van and we left. On the way home, we stopped in Daytona for a bite to eat at Hooters on Int’l Speedway Blvd. It seems a staple now since it was the first stop after my first endurance race, and continues to be a frequent stop when we return each year for the 24.

The 12 Hours of Sebring is coming up March 13-15. Catch it on the tube if not in person. It’s always an exciting event! I’ve wandered a bit from my All Trac story but consider it groundwork for future installments. Hope those in the northeast are enjoying the snow as much as I am!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:20 am

Funny thing about being around performance cars, inspiration is all around you. And soon you start carefully plotting how you can translate what you see to your own car. There were issues though. The Celica All-Trac, while a capable entry-level sports car, was produced in relatively low numbers. Even with the help of the MR2 Turbo, most performance companies overlooked it for more profitable models. I remember searching endlessly for off-the-shelf performance parts, but they were scarce at best. Today, there are much more available on the market from a variety of vendors, but if you found anything at all back then, it was likely made by only one vendor. Many companies I called hadn’t ever heard of the car or the engine. Even Toyota’s own TRD arm made few parts for it. What they did have were for Japanese or European markets only. I tasked my parts guy with looking into the TRD differentials, as they were one of the few parts we could get. Initially, you could only get them in a set (front, center, rear) and it stayed that way for several years. One day, I asked my guy if the rear diff could be had by itself and he was able to order it separately. Not sure what changed but I wasn’t going to wait and ask. Retail price…..$1,200, would need to be ordered from Japan, and only one in stock. I said “Do it!” After over a month of waiting, my diff finally showed up. My parts guy called me and said “Let me work on the price. I’ll see what I can do”. With that, he sold me the diff at dealer cost, dropping the price to roughly one quarter of retail.

At this point, I’m going to brag on my parts guy. I should mention that good parts guys are harder to find than a virgin in a whorehouse. You ever go to get parts and the guy behind the counter looks at you like you have a third eye? You can be as detailed and clear as possible, but they just don’t get it? This happens to me all the time. In fact, last week I needed Plastigage for an engine build and I called up Autozone to see if they had it. The guy on the other end paused and said “We have gauges. Is that what you mean?” I then had to explain what Plastigage was and again was met with silence. He said he never heard of it, but was going to ask the other guy. I went to the store after he confirmed having it, and an older gentleman waited on me. I said to him that the guy answering the phones didn’t know what Plastigage was, and I was dumbfounded that he works in an auto parts store. The guy chuckled and said “Funny thing is he always brags about the engines he builds!” If you don’t know what it is, I apologize but chances are you don’t work in an auto parts store. At any rate, I started working with my parts guy in 1995 and to this day, still buy all my Toyota parts from him. He’s an hour away too! If you find a good one, treat them like a king!

Back on my parts hunt, I could find nothing but generic or poor cheap examples of supposed performance parts. Sport Compact Car magazine did an MR2 project car around this time, pioneering the performance market for the 3SGTE. It was done in installments, taking a stock MR2 Turbo and turning it into a street beast. Best of all, it was a sleeper….at least for awhile. I called many of the vendors they used and bought parts, still having a Kevlar clutch from one of them. Though expensive, I could now get parts without having them custom made.

After spending a small fortune on parts, I began thinking why should I limit my search to only the US? The tuner scene is booming overseas and, of course, they always get the good stuff anyway. I bet they’ll have more parts for my car, and I was right! But how do I go about getting them? After quite a bit of research, I found a vendor in the UK. I called Demon Tweeks because they have everything from sports parts to full race gear, and everything in between. I quickly made two contacts and picked their brains for any parts I could find. It was tremendously helpful that they were willing to find parts for me even if their vendors didn’t offer it. If I was looking for specific parts, they could usually find it.
I couldn’t resist the lure and had to have a set of wheels, often the first purchase for many car owners to personalize their vehicle. So many decisions though. I finally chose a set of Speedline Mistrals, a popular choice of racers and tuners alike. As it were, this wheel was nearing the end of its production run making the price even better! The fact that this wheel (a one-piece) was never offered in the US was the nail in the coffin and I had to have them! A week and a half later, they were unwrapped and installed on the car. And they were beautiful!

Next up, how these wheels got me into Prodrive!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:35 pm

I'm sooooo enjoying this. It's like waiting for episodes of my favorite weekly program to come on.
Thanks jwgt41!!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Sun Mar 02, 2014 8:17 pm

Thanks my Chicago friend! When reflecting back, this car has taken me places even I couldn't have imagined!

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:22 am

The wheels looked sublime on the car! The silver / clearcoat finish are impeccable. Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled with the look of the locking center cap (these are technically called the Mistral Cap). The open dish, exposed lug wheels were already discontinued so beggars couldn’t be choosers. But overall, very happy with the purchase!

Twice a year, the dealership would rent a local track and invite the customers to “play” for two days. During a break on the first day, an instructor agreed to go out with me in my Celica. I could not have been more disappointed. My mind’s eye envisioned the car racing around the track while expertly heel-and-toe shifting as the car pitched around tight corners. But I was instead met with atrocious understeer, insubordinate brakes and a small oil leak that quickly turned into a big one. The car needed work. On top of that, I noticed one of the tires losing air. I had a difficult time finding the leak and finally dunked it in water. Upon further inspection, I noticed the aftermath of my intense track day. One of the wheels actually cracked due to stress on the inner lip. No impact, no curbs. It just developed a hairline crack.

Mind you the timeline from the arrival of the wheels to track day was almost a year, but having a wheel fail like this was unheard of. My next call, somewhat panicked, was to Demon Tweeks. I explained the situation but purposely left out any track day details. They needed the wheel back for examination and would consult the UK importer for Speedline. I did as requested and sent the wheel back, but I now had to take my new wheels back off and return to stock since I didn’t have a spare. Months went by without word, and the guys at DT very politely handed me off to the Speedline UK importer which, at that time, was Prodrive. This is the same Prodrive that rallied Subaru’s in the WRC. I had no idea who they were until my buddy told me.

A very cordial Karen at Prodrive explained to me that the wheel was sent back to Italy for metallurgical testing. Both they and Demon Tweeks had never seen a crack develop like that before, and they thought it may be a recall situation. I did find out my wheels were initially painted white but later refinished at the factory to silver prior to sale. So there’s that. The workers in Italy, as I was well aware, are notoriously slow at reaching any decision. Meanwhile, I was anxiously and angrily calling Prodrive, Demon Tweeks and once……to Italy. The conversation didn’t go well since they didn’t understand a word I said. Perhaps it was my accent.

Karen felt bad for me because it was taking so long but, more importantly, there wasn’t a single Mistral left that they could replace it with. A little over a year later, one of my guys at DT would find a new set in storage at a race shop in the UK and brokered a deal for me, which explains why there are seven wheels in the above photo. Ultimately, Speedline Italy decided it wasn’t a problem with their wheel and that too much stress was inflicted on the wheel which caused it to crack. Bottom line….they wouldn’t do anything about it, and destroyed my wheel shortly after.
Without any hope, I put the Speedlines in storage and started searching for another set of rims. A few months go by and I end up getting a new set of wheels from a no-name company, but the sales guy was good and the wheel was exclusive. He agreed to send me one to check fitment on my car, and it was a step up to 18” from the Speedline 17’s. In hindsight, it was an extremely heavy wheel and required a ton of weight to balance out. The finish was so-so and really was not on par with the Speedlines. But the design looked good and I did want something different.

In January of 2000, my girlfriend decided we should take a trip abroad. The destination…..England! Through her college, they got a great student group package, complete with airfare and hotel. Once my first international trip was confirmed, I made two calls. One to Karen at Prodrive and the other to a person I’ll talk about in greater detail later. I asked Karen if it would be possible to tour Prodrive during our visit. Because of our rather storied relationship and, partially, because I think she felt she owed me, she agreed! She made it clear though that it wasn’t customary.
We made the trek overseas from Philly, arriving around 7am their time (2 am ours). We didn’t sleep on the plane, thanks to a saucy little bastard that wouldn’t keep his mouth shut and parents that felt “gentle reinforcement” was the answer. The first day was torture, and I didn’t even want to be there because I was so tired. But eventually we settled in and started doing our tourist stuff. London was great, and England as a whole simply beautiful! There is so much to see, and with only a week to do it, we had to get moving quick.

Found this in downtown London.
Last edited by jwgt41 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:41 am, edited 2 times in total.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:25 am

Finally, the day came to take our trip out into the countryside. We picked up our rental car at Heathrow and I remember wondering how I would fit in such a little car. The Nissan Micra was the size of a Geo Metro, but with four doors. We would drive about an hour and a half out of the city to the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire (think of it as city and state). Those goofy English drive on the wrong side of the road (and car) making it a very large adjustment. An unusual sensation to be sure, and I violated a few laws, but no harm no foul.

We found this sexy girl in a grocery store parking lot, complete with child seat in back.
Last edited by jwgt41 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:31 am

We arrived at Prodrive, perched just along the motorway. Karen greeted us with a smile. She was a tall, attractive woman in a smart business suit but I distinctly remember her legs! She had GORGEOUS legs! But I digress. We were here for cars, not women and I don’t think my girlfriend was too happy at all the eye candy, motorized or otherwise. Karen first showed us the race shop for their BTCC competition cars (British Touring Car Championship). At the time, I believe they were campaigning Ford Mondeo’s but I had no idea they were in the BTCC at all. Then, Karen stops and explains that the next area we’ll be going past is the WRC shop. She was explicit in her instructions…..absolutely no photo or video. And we wouldn’t be lingering but more like “walking past”. So I did what any rational car nut would do….I casually held my camcorder to the side and caught a quick glance as we hurried along. It was useless footage….I’m shit at being discreet. But I was ecstatic when we came up to Juha Kankkunen’s Safari car, fresh from the African continent. This I was allowed to video. After, we entered the shop where all the privateer cars are worked on. Another Kankkunen car was in there as well, along with lots more! I’ve included photos of the shop, as well as the shock dyno room.

While we didn’t get in to the WRC shop, this was the next best thing. The rest of our tour was a casual wind down from that point, but even the parking lot was littered with cool cars, the best being a Lancia Delta.
Last edited by jwgt41 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:46 am, edited 2 times in total.

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:33 am


Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:34 am

and some of Kankkunen's car

Re: An All-Trac Legacy

Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:35 am

dyno room
Post a reply